FieldWorks 5000

The Fieldworks 5000 is a notebook with a difference – not only does it need a rather large carry handle in order to lug it around, but it has also been designed to withstand very rough handling. The machine’s base unit weighs 4.54kg (you can see the need for the handle) and features a 133MHz Pentium CPU, 16MB of RAM, 810MB hard drive and a 10.4in dual-scan LCD screen. Claimed as the industries first “Rugged Field Notebook” (which can be dropped while in use and remain working) this machine was built with mining, military and field work conditions in mind.

Like other notebooks, the FieldWorks 5000 has excellent expansion capacity and can be easily upgraded. Options include a TFT Colour screen, “Technology Module” CPU (allowing an easy upgrade to a 166MHz CPU), sunlight readable monochrome and active matrix displays (for the great outdoors) and a quad speed CD-ROM drive. All this, and the ability to handle 100g impacts, makes the FieldWorks 5000 a notebook that is in its element when outdoors.

Similar to other multimedia notebooks the FieldWorks 5000 has 16-bit sound, stereo speakers, 2 PC Card slots and a nickel metal-hydride battery, which the distributor claims gives 3 hours of operation at full power (it also has an external power-supply for AC operation).

Unlike other notebooks, however, the FieldWorks 5000 has a rigid and lightweight one-piece Magnesium alloy chassis and high-energy-absorbing rubber which is moulded to the magnesium super structure to protect internal sub-systems The machines operating temperatures are stated as -20°C to 50°C. External rubber flaps are used to protect all slots on the notebook. These take some getting used to but once in place would prevent the entry of most dust or water (although not full immersion).

Backing up the CPU is a 256KB pipeline burst cache and 16MB of RAM (expandable to 64MB). The colour display only handles 640 x 480 internally but will support up to 1280 x 1024 at 256 colours on an external monitor. The rugged nature and solid side walls of the notebook have left the keyboard area slightly smaller than usual, however this did not prevent easy typing, especially as the front handle acts as a good palm/wrist rest. The sidewalls cover the entire height and depth of the machine and the screen closes to a snug fit between them. The touch pad on the notebook is large – catering for those on the move – but needs firm pressure to work well and we found it to be a little imprecise. Speaker volume is good, but there is no external volume control. The video display is powered by Cirrus Logic with 1MB of display memory. LEDs at the top of the notebook offer the user a quick guide to hard drive operation, power on and remaining battery life.

The machine we tested was supplied with Windows 95 and at start up we were presented with four options to load certain drivers. Unfortunately all the options meant Windows 95 reported that the C: drive was operating in ‘Compatibility Mode’ thus slowing hard drive access. This was born out in testing with the FieldWorks 5000 scoring 332 in the Business Disk Winmark 97, compared to 550 for a Pentium 166 desktop system. In other performance testing the notebook scored 17.9 in Business Winstone 97 640 x 480 at 16k colour, and 12.1 in 24M colours. WinBench Graphics WinMark 97 revealed a marked difference in performance when changing from 24M to 16k. The results were 7.86 in 24M colours and 23 in 16k colours. Because the FieldWorks 5000 is completely sealed from the environment, heat is dissipated by an external heat sink located at the rear of the notebook. Also on the back of the machine are two com ports, SVGA port, parallel port, PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, a speaker out, line in and mic in ports.

The FieldWorks 5000 certainly looks as if it would live up to the claims it makes of being “the worlds most rugged PC” however the Test Lab did not drop the notebook or subject it to a Melbourne thunderstorm.

If you need a PC for the outdoors, and have big pockets, give the FieldWorks 5000 and its bigger brother, the 7000, a close look.

Racal Fieldworks 5000 Notebook
PROS: Rugged, tough design; Go anywhere computing.
CONS: Heavier than most notebooks. Pricey, but if your notebook is often dropped or run over then it might be worth the money.
Company: Racal Australia
Address: 3 Powells Road, Brookvale, 2100
Phone: 02 9936 7000
Fax: 02 9936 7036
PRICE: $14,335 as tested (floppy drive – $305, 4x CD-ROM – $1275, extra battery – $650)